At the risk of coming across like some scolding parent, instead of writing all about the wonderful two weeks I just spent working hard and playing hard in Hawai`i I decided instead to vent about some of the bad behavior I saw from fellow visitors to that great nation. I figured some informing was in order.
DISCLAIMER: I know that none of my friends would ever do any of the things that I am about to describe here, so please know that my admonitions are NOT meant for you! But if you know someone who could use some educashun, please pass this along. And thanks for being open to learning some things about Hawai`i that you might not know, and that hopefully will help to inform your trip should you, like me, be lucky enough to visit.
I titled this post “One hundred and One Things NOT to do When Visiting the Sovereign Hawaiian Nation” for several reasons. One, to play off the typical vacation guide “101 things to do on Kaua`i” “Hawai`i: Your Vacation Playground!”etc.
I think that’s part of the problem, that state and local governments promote tourism in a way that makes people think that their own Personal Paradise ™ awaits them in Hawai`i. Like, it’s a tropical Disneyland made just for them and their enjoyment. That sets up expectations that leads to some of the bad behaviors we witnessed.
And two, I wanted to remind (or inform) everyone that yes, Hawai`i was a sovereign nation until it was overthrown in 1893. I know all about this because my husband curated an exhibit on the topic for his museum, here is a link to the symposium he held:
The story of what happened in Hawai`i is way worthy of a post of its own, I encourage you to read about the history of the overthrow and of the current state of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Some good sources include
I think that it’s important to know that history, especially when visiting Hawaii. It might help tourists to understand signs like these:
All that to say that maybe an understanding of Hawaiian history will help people make better choices when visiting Hawai`i.
A basic understanding of Hawaiian culture might also help. Actually, as I wrote those words I thought to myself: “No what is most important is a sense of respect, and common sense”. Doug wrote a paper on the importance of rocks in Hawaiian culture, how rocks, as part of the body of the islands themselves, are older siblings to the Hawaiian people. But someone doesn’t necessarily have to know all the details to know that it is NOT OK to set up camp on rocks that have what is clearly some kind of offering on top, and a petroglyph that is clearly visible:
Shouldn’t it be common sense to know that you shouldn’t lay your wet bathing suit out to dry on such a rock? And while rock stacking and cairn building might be ok in some parts of the world, it is definitely NOT ok to move rocks there. Even better, don’t move anything that doesn’t belong to you.
Oh, and camping is prohibited in certain areas for a reason, not to kill your buzz. Same with other rules and regulations. For example, don’t park where there is clearly a no parking sign. It’s there for a reason.
Don’t enter a cave when there are CLEAR signs saying not to. The caves in Ha`ena are some of the most sacred places in Hawai`i…climbing into them and taking selfies is the height of disrespect.
But we saw that. We saw a group of people at Ke`e beach, standing in the water with floats and open beers, like it was their own personal pool party. Another time Doug heard someone giving instructions on how to “take” live coral…just put it in a baggie with some sea water. That was not cool! Same with hiking Makana mountain in cleats…not cool. Not only is it dangerous, but again, it’s a really sacred space.
I’m sure there are examples of things like this all over the islands. And with social media and our increasing need to document everything I would imagine that it’s only going to get worse. Anything for that epic Instagram shot.
Some other things are more subtle. It’s really important to understand that generations of people were raised in places like Ha`ena, but now they can’t afford to live there, and forget about their children being able to afford to. What must it feel like to be from a place, to have roots there, and see it become the playground of the rich? To know that there are ancestral burial grounds deep under the million dollar gated mansions that line the shore?
(And UGH for signs like these:
All over Kailua on O`ahu .The above sign was not in Kailua but is similar to what I saw. Several were on roads that led straight to the beach, NOT through private property. It’s important to know that the beaches in Hawai`i are all public. Beach access, that’s another story.)
The people of Hawai`i, the native Hawaiians, are doing what they can to malama (take care of) their `aina (land). It must be heartbreaking to see it taken over by developers who then sell to people who have no sense of the place. I don’t mean to imply that all the rich newcomers are assholes and that all native Hawaiians are saints. And many of the problems in Hawai`i go way back to the time of the overthrow. The sugar and pineapple barons also played a nasty part, hijacking water and holding onto land that could be used to house people.
But from what I see, many of the newcomers could come down outta their privilege and learn some things. In one of his interviews Doug learned that 42% of Hawaiians have moved from Hawai`i because they can’t afford to live there. I don’t know the answer for that, but there has to be one. People shouldn’t have to work 2-3 jobs to be able to afford a small rented house in their homeland. I know it’s bad in places like San Francisco; that many people are forced to move hundreds of miles away just to be able to afford a house. But Hawaiians are being forced to move thousands and thousands miles away. And many of those who stay face some real hardship. And their beaches, where they used to spend time fishing and being with family, are teeming with tourists. No place to park…
As I wrote in the beginning of this piece, I know I’m going to come across like some holier than thou haole. (Although I guess that’s what I am! HA!) But only because I have been treated so well by the people of Hawai`i, Kaua`i especially, and Ha`ena most especially. I want them to be able to continue to malama their `aina, and I hope that this can be my way of helping. Doug and I are thinking about starting a web site on these very topics, how to visit Hawai`i in a way that is pono (just, right), or how to give and receive Aloha – not just what not to do, but what we all can to do to help. How to maintain a responsible, culturally sensitive tourism industry, which is necessary since many native Hawaiians depend on it. His project, Pacific Worlds, is his attempt to try to document the culture, the sense of place, before it’s swallowed up. Hopefully our site will be a good companion piece specifically for Hawai`i. So please stay tuned. Suggestions/critiques/thoughts and comments welcomed. Maybe we can crowd source? Send us your Hawai`i tourist horror stores…along with any good news.
In the meantime, mahalo for reading. Aloha nui loa.